BPS School Closures Spark Civil Rights Complaint

By Andrea Smardon

Mar. 1, 2011

Parents implored the Boston Public School Committee not to close the Agassiz School at a committee meeting at English High School on Dec. 7. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

BOSTON — A coalition of lawyers and educators have filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Boston Public Schools.  The complaint, initiated by the Black Educators of Alliance of Massachuetts, alleges that a recent school closure plan discriminates on the basis of race against the city’s Black and Latino students and parents.

Rahsaan Hall is a staff attorney for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  He says the department’s plan to close several schools in the district disproportionately affects communities of color, especially in the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.
"What we’re primarily concerned about is the process that was used in deciding which schools to close, and whether or not there were other alternatives that were available that did not impact Black and Latino students as disparately as this plan does," Hall said.

"We’re not arguing that they’re being targeted because they are Black or because they are Latino.  They’re targeted because it’s the low lying fruit.  It’s the easiest thing to do," Hall said. "Here are the schools that nobody wants to go to, let’s close these ones, without taking into account the burden or the impact that these closings have. Or to the extent that they do take these into account, nor seriously looking at other alternatives."

Superintendent Carol Johnson defended the plan in a statement, saying that the schools slated for closure were selected because they are among the lowest-chosen by families, are struggling academically, and are in facilities that are not up to par.  Johnson said the district is expanding choices in higher-performing schools and turning around underperforming schools in the communities in question.

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation.  The superintendent says she looks forward to working with the office as it conducts its inquiry.

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